For 9/16/2021 (p. 906)
Book Three, Part Two continued
Scene: Napoleon ‘s outlook at the Shevardino Redoubt
Napoleon cannot see what is happening at the center of the battlefield (Bagration’s flèches), and all information he receives is always already outdated and unreliable. Orders are given but not carried out, the movements and decisions during the battle do not make sense because they can’t.
Napoleon’s generals want reinforcements and Napoleon refuses because he cannot see “my chessboard” clearly, ultimately “playing the part of a doctor who hinders by his medicines” (861). Seeing that his strategies do not work and that the battle is not going his way, he feels depressed, as do all his men. He rides across the center of the battlefield (toward Semyonovsk) at the end of the day, seeing the devastation and knowing he cannot change anything through his orders.
Scene: Kutuzov’s headquarters in Gorky
Meanwhile, Kutuzov is getting messages from the battlefield, listening to all the intelligence but not giving any orders, until he needs to replace the wounded Bagration with a new commander. Wolzogen comes from Barclay de Tolly’s position to report that the battle has been lost, and Kutuzov tells him they are wrong. Wolzogen thinks Kutuzov is wrong but has to take the written order back to Barclay that the fighting is supposed to resume the next day. He doesn’t realize that Kutuzov is good at intuiting “the spirit of the army” (867), making emotional sense of the mood–and at influencing it with his order, which makes the soldiers feel “comforted and inspirited” at the end of a horrid battle day (868).
Scene Change: Andrei’s regiment (near Semyonovsk)
Andrei’s regiment is part of the battle reserves, still inactive by 1 pm. Everyone is just waiting, doing nothing as they see the dead and wounded being carried past them, listening to the bombardments, with cannonballs and shells coming their way all the time. A shell explodes very close to him and wounds him severely–he thinks this is death. But he is being carried to the overwhelmed hospital tents and gets priority as a commander. He is still convinced he will die, but also discovers that he loves life.
Andrei is being operated on, at times losing consciousness, but he is remembering pleasant memories from early childhood–“when he used to be undressed and put to bed, and when leaning over him his nanny sang him to sleep and he, burying his head in the pillow, felt happy in the mere consciousness of life” (873). He is aware of the sobbing and screaming man next to him, who is asking to see his leg that has just been amputated, and realizes it is Anatole Kuragin. He thinks of him with love and forgiveness, and also of Natasha with love and tenderness. He is remembering his childhood lessons about loving one’s enemies–but he is convinced it is too late and that he will die.
Scene: Napoleon ‘s outlook at the Shevardino Redoubt
Napoleon, when being told that the Russians are holding their ground (near Knyazkovo) under heavy French fire, gives the order to increase the artillery fire. The narrator tells us that all he can think of is his “imaginary greatness” and is incapable of understanding “goodness, beauty, or truth” (877). He quotes from Napoleon’s look back at the Russian war while on St. Helen’s, in which he is still able to argue that he would have created a great European empire for the benefit of one people, a “great cause” (877), and that, given the multi-national army on the French side, many more Russians died than French soldiers per se (as opposed to soldiers fighting for the French) among the hundreds of thousands who died.
Reflection on the impact of the battle, as it “burnt slowly out” while the spirits of the men on both sides are flagging even as they still fire at one another. The narrator observes that even though it would have looked to an outside observer of the rear of either army that one more push would have tipped the result, the Russians could not have done this because they had already lost so many troops (half the entire army), while the French theoretically could have, in terms of their manpower, but “the flagging spirit of the troops would not permit it,” its “moral force” exhausted (880). Even as the French continue towards Moscow, the battle of Borodino inflicted a “mortal wound” on the French that directly led to Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and the catastrophic loss of French troops during that retreat.
Book Three, Part Three
The narrator’s reflection continues and broadens, comparing history to physics / mathematics in that it seeks to discover the laws of human motion (seen as continuous movement) and makes the mistake of looking at smaller and smaller units of observation (one event, one Great Man). The resulting historical analysis can always be challenged by changing the scale. The alternative would be to integrate (as in differential calculus) ALL “the individual tendencies of men” and finding their sum, and that would get us the “laws of history” (882). [That doesn’t work, mathematically speaking, because there would always be a finite, not infinite, number of individuals. The units are not, in fact, “infinitesimally small.” Just saying. Nonetheless, he is actually proposing/anticipating a kind of quantitative/statistics-based social history, 100+ years before it made any inroads into history as a methodology.]
He then applies this to the millions of people moving about Europe during the events from ca. 1800-1815–explaining this motions by way of the French Revolution or of Napoleon won’t work. Great Man history is always inherently flawed and gets causation wrong; historians need to study the small elements “by which the masses are moved” (883).
More reflection, but now on the battle of Borodino, which damaged the Russian army and forced retreat after retreat all the way behind Moscow, but also slowed the French, even as that was not initially apparent, when Kutuzov realizes after the battle that another attack is simply not possible after the loss of half the army. The narrator reminds us that hindsight ideas about what he could have done or known are pointless, and that the decision, coming up on September 1 just 4 miles outside of Moscow, really hinged on what had happened at Shevardino and Borodino that week.
Scene: In Kutuzov’s quarters at Poklonny Hill, Sept 1, 1812, 4 miles outside of Moscow
Kutuzov witnesses rather than controls an informal council of war that has gathered all the generals and also Count Rastopchin from Moscow. The question of retreat vs. the defense of Moscow is debated back and forth while Kutuzov listens, with Bennigsen in particular arguing for the defense, but Kutuzov knowing that it cannot be done. He summons his generals.
The official Council of War gathers in the home of a farmer, with Malasha, a 6-year-old, watching what is happening from the top of the brick oven. All the important generals are there, and Bennigsen makes his case. But Kutuzov makes his position clear and thinks that they have to sacrifice Moscow to save Russia. He orders the retreat and muses: at what point exactly did it become intevitable?
[This is more of a reflection on the general situation in Moscow than a scene set there.] Rastopchin, in charge of Moscow and often seen as “the instigator” of the burning of the city, is represented as the opposite of Kutuzov. The people of Moscow and its aristocrats acted like Russians did in other cities that fell to the French: the aristocrats left for the country and took their valuables; like the regular people, who are unable to leave, they fully expect the city with its wooden houses to burn. But Rastopchin, not really understanding this dynamic, wanted to do something “patriotically heroic” (895) and change the course of events.
Meanwhile, Hélène has moved back from Vilna to Petersburg and is openly negotiating in rather Machiavellian terms with two lovers about possible marriage to one of them: a young foreign prince and a old Russian Grandee. After demanding that the younger lover marry her, she is working with the Jesuits with whom the young foreigner seems to have good rapport on becoming Catholic and having her marriage to Pierre annulled.
But as Hélène is staging her affairs as if the two men were just two suitors competing for her hand, she has to convince Petersburg society that the fact that she’s already married does not count for anything, giving everyone the impression that the question of annulment has already been resolved. Only Marya Dmitrievna is refusing to accept Hélène’s transgression and basically tells her she is a whore–but her opinion does not mean much in Petersburg circles; Bilibin, who is close friends with Hélène, advises her to marry the older man, because she can still marry the younger one afterwards, when she is widowed. Even Helene’s mother can’t change her mind about the possible breaking of religious law that her divorce would entail, so Hélène writes to Pierre to make the arrangements for this. This letter would have arrived while Pierre was on the battlefield at Raevsky’s Redoubt.
Scene: between Borodino and Mozhaisk
Pierre, at the end of the battle, has left the hill where the artillery fire wrought such havoc (Raevsky’s Redoubt) and walks along the road to Mozhaisk, but then just sits down by the roadside, until a group of soldiers take him under his wing (he just gives Pyotr Kirilych as his name and conceals his high rank); they help him get to Mozhaisk, where his groom recognizes him.
Taken back to his inn, Pierre falls asleep in his carriage (since there are no rooms) and dreams about trying to listen to his Freemason advisor/benefactor from Torzhok among a group of people that also includes his former friends, like Denisov, Dolokhov, and Anatole. It seems to him like he is hearing his benefactor’s voice saying wise things, and he is trying to put all these things together, thinking of harnessing them–but then the word “harnessing” is actually the one his groom uses as he is waking Pierre up and getting him ready to leave for Moscow. He takes on a wounded general as a passenger in his carriage and accompanies him to Moscow, hearing from him about the deaths of Anatol and Andrei [IS THIS FOR REAL? Or just another rumor as after the battle in Austria?].